Hundreds of eager hikers, bikers and skiers gathered in the forest north of Oslo on Sunday to get their hands on the latest, arguably most popular guide to the great outdoors around the Norwegian capital. The new Kjentmannsmerket handbook was hot off the press, full of 50 new post attractions waiting to be found.
A kjentmann, in Norwegian, is someone who’s well-acquainted with a particular area and a merke is rather like a merit badge in scouting: Something you earn for exerting a special effort. So Kjentmannsmerket rewards participants for exploring the local forests. Local ski association Skiforeningen launched the program several decades ago to help folks become more kjent, or familiar, with the hills and forests known as marka that surround Oslo.
The idea was to place posts deep in the woods that hikers and skiers would need to find in order to earn their merke, rather like a treasure hunt of sorts. Post-hunters would be given a brief description of the place where the post was located, normally a place of some special historic or geographic interest, and then need to plot their own routes to get there.
The program, which makes Oslo’s forests even more user-friendly and provides specific trekking destinations, thrived for many years but then went into a long hibernation until it was revived in 1990. Since then, a new Kjentmannsmerket handbook has been published every other year, with steadily more elaborate descriptions and photos that have been attracting ever more post-hunters keen to become kjentmenn.
Thousands now take part in the program, which only involves buying the handbook, spending some time studying trail maps and setting off into the woods. Skiforeningen had already sold 400 handbooks before the first post — near the Langli dam north of Sørkedalen that forms an important source of Oslo’s drinking water — was ceremoniously revealed and the new collection of posts unveiled at noon.
The program inspired the online launch of a fan club of sorts, called Kjentmannsmerkets Venner (Friends), that brings “kjentmenn” together via its informative and colorful website and forum, where marka patriots discuss the posts, share route tips and swap their outdoor experiences.
They figured prominently among those gathering over the weekend for the new book launching. Post-hunters now have two years to find all 50 posts described in the now-82-page handbook. Finding 15 will earn a bronze merke, 25 a silver and at least 40 a gold.
The new handbook for 2010-2012 will take participants to scenic outlooks like the view over the lake Himmelvannet on the Hurum peninsula, to the historic Svarttjerns dam in Krokskogen, to the panoramic summit of Lamannshaugen in northwest Nordmarka and to a monument to the scouting movement in Østmarka. The posts are scattered in all the forests around Oslo, from Sørmarka in the southeast to Romeriksåsen in the northeast and Vestmarka in the west. Other posts are at the sites of old mines, unusual geological formations, an old lookout tower and even a lake formed in the shape of a phallic symbol, and called Mannstjernet.
Books are available for sale at Skiforeningen’s offices at Holmenkollen and from its online boutique (external link, in Norwegian), at various sporting goods stores including Bull Ski & Kajakk in Sandvika and Slemdal Sport, and at some of Skiforeningen’s lodges in marka.